Miguel Pedraza, Sr., governor of the Tigua Indians, was born on June 30, 1904, at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, near El Paso. His father was Luz Pedraza, who was killed in a gun battle with Texas Rangers. Pedraza, who was part Tigua and part Piro, was reared by Benselado Granillo, an Indian scout for the United States Cavalry in the 1880s. He married Margarita Quintañilla, a Mexican American, in 1938. They had one son, Miguel Pedraza, Jr., who also served as tribal governor. Though probably without formal schooling, Pedraza learned Spanish and English in addition to Tiwa, the nearly extinct language of the Tiguas. The rest of his education was largely based on Tigua teaching regarding the "real things" in life-"the air, sun, grass, food"-and his people's determination to survive.
For years ethnologists had thought the Tiguas were extinct. They had, in fact, though poor and almost landless, maintained their government and tribal life since the late 1600s. When President Abraham Lincoln granted reservations to other Pueblo Indians in 1864 the Tiguas were excluded from the allocation because Texas was part of the Confederacy. Earlier, the Compromise of 1850, which had established much of the present boundary of Texas, separated them from fellow Tiguas in New Mexico, thus cutting them off from government support. In the 1960s Pedraza met with Governor Abieta of the New Mexico Tiguas and with Tom Diamond, an El Paso attorney and the local Democratic party chairman, whom Pedraza considered his "blood brother." Diamond brought him to the attention of Senator Ralph R. Yarborough and Governor John Connally. They succeeded in gaining the state's recognition of the Tiguas in 1967. Pedraza and Diamond arranged the next year for an appeal to the United States Congress, where Pedraza spoke on the House floor: "What I ask you is to give my people back their water. They have no water." His successful fight was the first instance in half a century that any leader had won national recognition for an Indian group. The Tiguas' victory encouraged other "lost" tribes to pursue public recognition. His efforts were reinforced nearly twenty years later, in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Ysleta del Sur Restoration Act, making the Tiguas eligible for various federal benefits.
Pedraza continued working for the Tiguas for the rest of his life. Beginning in 1969, he provided assistance to the Texas Indian Commission after retiring from a twenty-five-year job as a school-bus driver for the Ysleta Independent School District. Students so liked him that soon after his retirement they honored him with a banquet and plaque naming him their favorite bus driver. Pedraza was named marshall of the Sun Bowl parade in 1973, when El Paso paid official homage to the Tiguas as the region's first inhabitants. He was photographed in traditional dress with a 300-year-old Piro Indian drum in his hands. When the photograph was published as a postcard, Pedraza became the most recognized symbol of the Tiguas. In his later years he served as an elder of his people. He asserted in an interview that the genuinely valuable things in life did not include "ambition, power over people, material desires, or money." Three months before his death, he asked his son to ensure that his beloved Piro drum be placed in the hands of a responsible tribal member to continue teaching tribal traditions regarding life. Pedraza died at his home in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo on April 24, 1988. Services were held at Corpus Christi de la Isleta Mission and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, and he was buried in the Mount Carmel Cemetery nearby.
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"All Paths Rejoin: The Tiguas of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo," Texas Journal of Ideas, History and Culture 2 (Spring-Summer 1989). El Paso Times, April 26, 1988. Paul Geneson, "Return of the Tigua," Southwest Airlines Magazine, December 1984. Joseph Leach, "Of Time and the Tiguas," Password, Winter 1985. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Indians, Tigua).
Chiefs and Other Leaders
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Teresa Palomo Acosta,
“Pedraza, Miguel, Sr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 28, 2019
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: